Creating a Vision in the Midst of a Quiet Season

Last month, I stepped outside of my comfort zone to attend a vision board party. The day before the event, I went to Target to get a cute board of some sort – maybe a hexagonal corkboard like our hostess used as an example. Or maybe a foam board so I could write phrases in the margins. As is my norm, I walked the aisles, decided crafting is not at all my happy place, and turned to leave the store. I stopped by the dollar section in one last hopeful sweep and found a small chalkboard for $3.00. I figured it was a small investment so I grabbed it and went home to look for dusty crafting supplies.

The next day, armed with my board and a copy of Smithsonian, I joined a group of women to cut, paste, and dream about our year ahead.

I wasn’t just hesitant because of my crafting skills. I had decided that this was the year to embrace the present. No one word, no tangible goals. I was going to truly live in the moment! So, how do you translate that to a board that’s meant to guide your goals? What would I put on it to invigorate my imagination and keep me on track to success?

As I flipped through magazines, an ad to visit Denali National Park in Alaska jumped out. Its campaign read,

It’s been waiting 56 million years.
Consider this your invitation.

Yes. This is what I needed to spark my imagination. I read it as both an invitation to seek adventure and as a reminder that it’s ok to pause and take things slowly. The world is here and ready, and it always has been.

This past year, I had the immense gift of getting to travel internationally twice. Frank and I spent almost a week in Paris to celebrate our tenth anniversary. Walking the streets that shaped my transition to adulthood reminded me of all the both-ands of life. Living abroad was both amazing and life-changing and harder than anything I’ve done since.

Then, in October I got to travel by myself (for the first time since Frank and I met!) to Israel-Palestine where I met a dear friend for the first time face-to-face. Traveling alone stirred memories and feelings of excitement and adventure that I had forgotten. The trip was impacting in so many ways, but even just the reminder of who I once was grounded it as a touchstone experience.

Now, settled back into “normal” life, I wonder, what’s next? In some ways, those trips opened doors to this next stage of life and parenting. We’re able to leave the girls a bit longer, dig into parts of ourselves that were dormant the last handful of years, and start modeling to our girls who we were before we became parents.

I’m remembering, though, that while travel and adventure defined my worldview, it wasn’t my everyday normal. I still went to bed on time, packed my lunch, and went to work before I had children. I still dreamed big dreams and kept my feet planted in a city that is now firmly home.

In this year of quiet and presence, I want to remember the invitation to go and explore. But I also want to remember that things have been around for 56 million years. Even with an urgency that comes with climate change and political strife, I know this world will be ready and waiting for me. I find comfort in the fact that, when God created the cosmos, humans were the last to join the party. This doesn’t diminish our call to care for this earth but it’s a reminder that, maybe, we’re not as important as we think. That time truly is relative.

As hard as I’m trying to live in the present without a plan, I also know myself and I’m thankful for that vision board party. Maybe my board isn’t going to set me on the path to career success or visions of the next best phase. But I did hang it on the wall next to our coat hooks, where I see it daily as we grab backpacks and put on boots. I see it when I walk to the garage and when I’m switching out loads of laundry. It’s less a vision of tangible things and more a reminder of the person I was and am and will be again.

We’ll see how I feel about vision boards in a year or two or five but for now, this simple reminder is giving me hope and, yes, a vision for the future.

Have you ever created a vision board? How do you set intangible goals for yourself?

We Are Free to Love

My friend dropped her daughter off for a day of playing with Bea. Her daycare was on a holiday so I had agreed to host another 2-year-old for the day. After organizing snacks and lunches, my friend was about to leave when I blurted out, We just found out we’re miscarrying.

29595147_10160186172275453_3799920368185849580_nTiming is everything, isn’t it? We had just returned from a lovely weekend in Yellowstone, introducing Bea to one of our favorite places. On the way home, I knew something wasn’t right and, after inexplicably crying on the phone to my doctor, was seen right away for an early ultrasound. I learned a lot during that miscarriage, the biggest of which is that it is a process. It took weeks for my body to finally let the baby go.

Those weeks were held with a lot of waiting, a lot of Daniel Tiger episodes, and a lot of unknown. Those weeks also held so much hope and love from our community. My friend’s husband returned that afternoon to pick up their daughter, a bottle of Veuve Clicquot in hand. Another friend who had gone through her own miscarriage and the subsequent discovery of infertility brought over a meal and a listening ear. I learned that life isn’t meant to be lived alone.

I also learned that, even though we had a strong community who came alongside us, this is not the case for everyone. Miscarriage is still not shared, even though it’s a fairly common occurrence. I knew that I wanted to be open about our experience. In the following years, I’ve been able to come beside friends who experienced their own losses but we’ve had other friends who held it dear, not wanting to share.

Of course, we all process grief in our own unique ways and for some, that process is quieter. But that feeling of loneliness is one that breaks my heart. It’s for this reason, I’m so thankful for Adriel Booker’s memoir, Grace Like Scarlett. Adriel walks us through her own journey of three miscarriages between healthy pregnancies. She is honest and vulnerable in her feelings and hopelessness but also encouraging as she grounds her experiences in God and her community. She says,

“When we humble ourselves enough to let down our guard and be known for who we really are, grace is released. We are free to love and be loved.”

Even though this is a book specifically about miscarriage, its scope is much broader. It’s about grief and expectations; about community and faith. Booker reminds us that when we open ourselves up to others, we are seen. God meets us in those places.

Grace Like Scarlett is a book I wish I had had during the months following our miscarriage, as we became pregnant with a healthy baby, as I still processed the loss in the midst of joy and anticipation. It’s a book that is important in helping us open up to our friends and community. It gives hope and help on a journey that’s not often discussed.

How have you found help in your community after experiencing loss? What resources do you wish had been available?

Booker_GraceLikeScarlett_3D_webGrace Like Scarlett releases on May 1 but if you preorder now, you get tons of bonus gifts, like coloring pages, an audio series, and journaling prompts to help you process your own grief journey. Visit gracelikescarlett.com for all the details!

As a member of the Grace Like Scarlett launch team, I received an advanced copy for review. All opinions are my own.

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Assuming Positive Intention

I always know Frank and I are too busy when things that are done from a place of help and love feel like they’re done out of selfishness and habit. When Frank leaves a cup in the sink and I immediately think that he did it on purpose to add to my workload, I know we need to pause and spend the evening talking rather than reading or looking at our phones.

IMG_8176I don’t remember where I first heard (or more likely read) the phrase, positive intention but I’ve been trying to root myself in that more. Essentially it means that, before jumping to conclusions about a behavior, you assume the person is acting out of help rather than hurt. So, when Frank leaves his mug in the sink, I would assume it’s because he decided to help one of the girls and got distracted, rather than thinking he would like to create one more thing for me to do in the morning.

Assuming positive intention means I look at the playroom chaos and see creativity rather than mess. It means I read a Facebook post from a friend and assume a different life experience rather than anger or hatred. It means I read the news through the lens of hope rather than despair.

Of course, sometimes the intention isn’t positive and then I shift gears. Sometimes, the playroom is messy because the girls choose not to follow directions to pick it up. Sometimes, the mug is put away because Frank doesn’t see the sink in the same way I do. Sometimes the news really is bad. And then we talk and problem solve.

But when I go into a situation assuming this positive motive, my whole mindset has already shifted. Maybe I still have to deal with something but because I’m not assuming the worst, my reaction is different. I’m still working on this – it’s definitely not my first response. My hope is that, with practice, it becomes second nature and I start to see the world first and foremost as a place of hope and creativity.

What are some areas of your life you could practice seeing positive intention? If you already do this, how have you seen a shift in your worldview?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “intentional.”

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The Compost Heap

 

As Light Grows

It can be easy to look back to my childhood and think how different the world was. Of course, I’m remembering this world through eyes of a child. My world was my universe IMG_7521and stretched to the places I could walk and explore. When I was Bea’s age, my world also included our neighborhood in Germany and the countries my parents took us to visit during our years there.

While that would eventually shape my worldview, at the time, my world was as narrow as any 5-year-old’s.

For my girls, their world is our yard, the walks we take to school and the neighborhood park, play dates around town, our favorite national parks, our yearly visits to Philadelphia, and occasional visits to California.

I did a quick Google search of world conflicts in 1982. There were 42, ranging from martial law in Poland to the Hama massacre in Syria. I don’t know what the exact numbers are for 2017 but I do know that conflict has been with us since time began.

When we look at Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt after the birth of Jesus, I wonder how different it was for them to leave family and friends behind, knowing that little boys they knew would be killed from a family fleeing their home today?

Maybe the world isn’t all that different but my hope is different. I’m grateful that my girls will have access to global news easily and quickly. That they’ll know what is happening to their worldwide neighbors – both the victories and the laments.

As we keep lighting the Advent candles and our dinner table grows lighter, bit by bit, I am reminded that this world is growing lighter. That we are raising our kids with a deeper sense of hope and peace.

Where are you finding a different kind of hope these days? How do you celebrate raising kids with a different worldview?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “different.”

Finding God in Thin Places

I made the mistake of reading the news early on Saturday morning. We were all sitting around the fire, reading books and snuggling. The girls started playing and I checked my Blessingphone. Over and over again this year, I’ve read the news with a heaviness and disappointment. Many of the laws passed (or trying to be passed) won’t really affect our family much. In some cases, we may even benefit from them. And yet, my neighbors, Bea’s classmates, strangers on the street all will be impacted.

After my initial despair, I read from the beginning of the Gospel of Luke. This year, I’ve been reading the story of the Birth of Jesus each morning. Perhaps I’ll read an additional devotion along with it, but I want to immerse myself in this story. I need to be reminded.

We’re just five days into Advent, but I’ve read these two chapters five times now. I am struck by the obvious fact that Jesus came to earth as a tiny baby. Of course, we see the manger scenes, we know this about the first Christmas. Yet, I was reminded that Jesus coming as a baby was a big disappointment to many people. They were hoping for a Savior. A King. A Powerful Ruler to lift them from oppression.

They got a helpless baby.

Right now, I long for a Powerful Jesus to return, to redeem this world, to bring about a new earth. I don’t imagine this happening quietly or peacefully but with a grand show. I read the news and I think, Come, Jesus! Now is the time to return!

I empathize with those who could not see the Savior of the World as a baby. In many ways, Herod had more faith than I do, believing that this small human could disrupt his power.

I like the idea of Jesus entering this world as a baby, entering Jerusalem on a donkey. Of peace and hope being powerfully intertwined. But when I get antsy for change and when the powers of this world seem overwhelming, I wonder why Jesus chose the upside down path. Why couldn’t he come, sword flashing, power evident, to get rid of all the “bad guys” and restore justice?

I’m reading In the Sanctuary of Women by Jan L. Richardson. In her study of St. Brigid, she explores the soul of time. She talks about time being intertwined, like a Celtic knot, past, present, and future all linked and mixed. She explores thin places – those spaces where heaven and earth touch and the veil is thin. She reminds me that God cannot be more there than here and that if God occupies everywhere then the mystery is finding God in all of these spaces.

So, this Advent I am finding God, even in the spaces that seem hopeless. I am finding God both in the sweet family moments of lighting candles and reading ancient stories and I am finding God in politics and ways I can show love and hospitality to my neighbors. I am opening my eyes to these thin spaces, where heaven and earth touch, where suddenly Jesus coming as a helpless baby really does make sense.

BLESSING

May time spiral well for you,
leading you around
and around yet again
to the landscapes where remembering
offers redemption and grace.

Jan L. Richardson, In the Sanctuary of Women, pg. 85

Where are you finding thin spaces in your days? How do you experience hope as you anticipate the smallness of a baby-savior?

I Respectfully Disagree

One of the challenges of parenting that I find simultaneously most draining, most hopeful, and most constant is finding the balance of teaching respect and allowing our daughters to feel and express their emotions. And believe me, there are so many emotions to feel!

img_3228From learning to share to a project not going a certain way to simply being too tired or too hungry, a day doesn’t go by without tears from someone. (And I’m including myself in that equation.) Most of the time, I want both Bea and Elle to know that they are safe and welcome to feel those feelings. I want them to know that they will always have a safe place here to process and vent and figure out their own views on life.

But we also practice socially acceptable behaviors. We practice rephrasing feelings respectfully and how to ask in a way that helps people understand our needs. We talk a lot about how we may not agree with a choice or a decision but that we have to respect the outcome. But I also want them to know that just because I’m their parent doesn’t mean my choice is always final or right or unchangeable. It’s intensive work, creating human beings and citizens of this world.

Since November, I’ve seen many admonitions for disappointed people to respect the President. That, once the election was decided, we should put away our disappointments and anxiety, forgive the divisive comments and attitude, and throw our support fully and completely behind the president-elect.

On Inauguration Day, I saw it again – Just give him a chance; We are called to respect the office of President; God calls us to pray for our leaders. These are all statements I absolutely agree with. I do hope that our nation is guided to a place of justice and reconciliation; I do respect the office of President and am so grateful we live in a nation that practices the peaceful transfer of power; I have and will continue to pray for wisdom for our elected leaders.

But respect and disagreement aren’t exclusive. I can respect the office of President and vehemently disagree with the tone and words he uses to describe those who don’t support him. I can respect the office of President and be dismayed at the fact that he would choose to threaten arts funding (which makes up .02% of the federal budget) while likely boosting military spending to $1 trillion. I can respect the office of President and give the President a chance while remaining a bit skeptical. The cabinet nominees alone have given me little reason to celebrate unity and reconciliation.

I can respect the office of President and still believe that America has always been great; that we can move forward rather than looking backwards. I can respect the office of President and speak out against discrimination and hate.

In fact, speaking out may be the best way to show my respect. I respect this office so much that to blindly follow; to support without thinking; to not give voice to the voiceless would be the greatest disrespect I could show.

We grow and we learn from each other. We are stronger when we truly take the time to listen and understand each other’s stories.

I have a feelings these upcoming years will be a lesson in learning to find the balance I’m trying to teach my girls. To learn to feel my feelings; to respect others; and to use my voice to protect and help those who will be deeply impacted by this quest for greatness.

Hopefully, through discussion and disagreement; through debate and conversation, we’ll work together to continue making this a great country.

How do you engage with others of differing opinions? Does debate energize you or drain you?

Don’t Let the Light Go Out

The presents are opened. Visitors have gone home. Frank is back at work. Toys and metallic glitter markers and new books are still piled on surfaces, waiting to find a home. (Or, as much of a home as a constantly used playroom allows…)

img_2942On Christmas Day, we burned our Advent candles down to small stubs. This year, I bought a giant pillar candle for the Jesus candle. It doesn’t go with the rest of our Advent wreath, but I needed a giant reminder that this candle continues to light our way.

In some ways, I’ve been looking more forward to Epiphany than I did to Advent. This idea of the light guiding the wisemen to the baby. (Or toddler? I don’t really know the exact timeline.) We’re not a liturgical family – we put up our tree and decorations after Thanksgiving; we celebrated St. Nicholas Day on December 6; Christmas was our culmination.

And yet, even though we’ll slowly take down decorations this week and put the tree outside after New Year’s, we’ll keep the outdoor lights up through January 6. We’ll order a King’s Cake from the French bakery by Frank’s office. And we’ll keep the Jesus candle going.

I have friends who light candles to pray – a symbol that a small flame can make such a different. Maybe there’s something greater to the Catholic tradition of lighting candles as prayers than a mere habit. I’ll keep the Jesus candle lit through Epiphany but maybe I need to keep it going longer. Maybe we need to enter Lent with lights going rather than in darkness. Maybe we need to keep this candle lit as a symbol that our world is still groaning and waiting for a miracle.

Maybe this candle will be a reminder not only to pray but to do. I have a feeling that this year will need a lot of us doing more – living our faith louder and more clearer. Being better neighbors, kinder humans.

We lit the Shabbat candles with our neighbors a few weeks ago. As we covered our eyes and followed the ancient prayers, we were told that the candles aren’t extinguished; they’re left through the meal and into the evening to burn down. A reminder to not let the light go out.

As this year comes to a close and we begin 2017 with a fresh perspective, I’ll keep the candle going. Because Advent brought hope and I’m not ready to forget that.

Do you observe Epiphany? How do you remember Christmas throughout the year?

Finding Hope in the Messiness

Advent either started yesterday or last Sunday, depending on how you observe the season. Regardless, we’ve gotten off to a semi-rocky start. We’ve had a dinner-long meltdown during our candlelit meal because I wouldn’t turn off all the lights; I forgot to print out the Jesse Tree ornaments that go along with Unwrapping the Greatest Gift; and our first piece of candy for the calendar was dug out of the depths of our leftover Halloween candy treat basket.

My friend Debby said it best in her post about being Out of Sync with Advent:

When I thought about how out of sync we’d be with the Christian world I realized that Jesus intentionally lived his life out of sync with the world. He came to turn things upside down a bit. To remind us that he is the way to true life, not money or status.

img_2389This point of view has helped me as we start out this week of Hopeful waiting. And perhaps it’s why we begin with the hope candle. Hope itself is so expansive, so messy and sometimes rocky.

Hope can embody a deep anticipation but it can also be a bit out of sync. I often use the phrase, I hope so not to mean eager waiting but to hedge any expectation, in case things don’t work out. I use hope to water down excitement; to guard against disappointment.

This season has been one of reframing hope. I find myself using the word when talking about politics, about current events. I hope things work out; I hope it’s not as bad as it seems; I hope it’s better than I expect.

But what kind of hope is that? What I need to do is frame hope in the sense of complete trust. We are waiting in darkness, eager for the light and hope to emerge with Christmas. I put my trust in that hope; I put my trust in the small child who promises peace to our world.

My hope for this Advent season is that we take the time to recognize and sit with the rockiness that is life. Jesus didn’t come to give us an easy life or a beautiful Christmas memory. He came to turn this world upside down; to stir up the status quo; to cast out fear. Perhaps that’s not what we see in the small baby in the manger but it’s what is to come. I find that messy, a bit scary, but ultimately so very hopeful.

How has your Advent started? How do you find hope in the midst of real life messiness?

When Life is a Badger Fight

Look mom – my knee is all scraped because I got in a fight with a badger.

img_2067
Wandering Supergirl

I looked at Bea’s already scabbed and newly bloodied knee. It did, indeed, look as though she had gotten in a fight with a badger. The source was from biking too fast, taking too many sharp turns, and valuing speed over safety.

Yesterday felt a bit like waking up after a badger fight. I was (and still am) so very surprised at what America most values. I was so sure that love would win, that kindness still mattered, that we weren’t really afraid of the unknown. I was wrong. My heart hurts for those who are truly, deeply impacted by the values represented in this election.

Bea asked me if she could still be president when she grew up and I couldn’t honestly answer that question. Can she? As long as we are afraid, can a minority or a woman or anyone who is different from the status quo become president without serious repercussions? In the next thirty years, I hope something changes.

I know I’ll feel hopeful again. I know that this presidency won’t be our worst and that, in the greatest scheme of things the next four years can’t really undo all the progress we as a nation have made. I know that my hope is in something greater, something that will last far beyond any nation we live in.

But I’ll also take time to grieve. To allow myself to be sad that my neighbors don’t love each other well enough. That I don’t love them well enough. That we still live rooted in fear rather than hope. I’ll acknowledge those big, sad feelings.

And then, I’ll move on. But this time with a new perspective. With a keener eye for injustice and how I can actively be part of the change. I’ll vote even more consciously with my dollars and support causes that will reflect my values, far more than any candidate ever could.

I’ll remember that it is in our small, everyday moments that these ideals are lived out. That small moments lead to big changes.

Ever the optimist, Bea told me that if she can’t be president, maybe she’ll be a “wanderer.” I told her that sounded good. She’ll be just as likely to fight a badger, either way.

How do you vote with your dollars? And, how do you explain politics to the preschool crowd?

Hope in Tomorrow

We were at Costco a couple days ago and Bea insisted on steering the cart. In other grocery stores this is an awkward but doable request. (As long as the store is fairly empty…) Costco’s carts, like their products, are larger than the average so Bea has to strain to reach the handle. It took us about 8 minutes to walk half an aisle with this method… Whenever I would suggest help, she would insist that she was Big Enough!! And we had to explain that, while she is growing up, she just needs to be a bit taller. Perhaps one of the hardest truths of childhood.

"Helping" at Costco
“Helping” at Costco

This had me thinking about my own desire to be at the next phase in life. Sometimes I just want to get to the next opportunity, without messing around in the lessons I’m learning right now. I’m trying to find that balance between active anticipation of the promise of a restored earth and the reality of living in the grittiness and frustration of the not-quite-yet.

I can feel bogged down in all the injustice and the fact that I feel helpless to do anything about it. I guess I just want to be bigger – to have more degrees or more authority or more ideas to actually help a situation. Instead, I’m looking at the small moments and tiny ways in which I can help now. Whether through giving financial support to those who already do amazing work to educating myself to simply praying for those in need.

Every night before bed I read this Compline prayer and I’m slowly letting it sink into my daily outlook:

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, ad to do it well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity of the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

How do you balance living in the moment and looking toward the hope of tomorrow?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.